Almost everybody who follows public affairs knows American government has been virtually immobilized by the deep division between conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.
Conservatives believe the fault lies with the control over previous decades by big-spending Democrats. Liberals believe the fault lies with obstructionist conservatives, who want to dismantle most government services.
These beliefs have deepened during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, turning into self-fulfilling facts of political life.
Despite such attitudes, the supposed polarization has not prevented each side from gaining some of its major objectives.
Obama supporters point to health care reform. Though many Republicans would like to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it has clearly begin to take root. Repeal or even a broad revision is becoming increasingly unlikely as more people and insurers sign up.
Surveys show a majority want government action on climate change. Recent Obama action to get the Environmental Protection Agency to limit emissions from coal-burning power plants is popular.
And, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, there have been some reforms intended to punish those responsible and make future collapse less likely.
On the other side, government spending has been reined in. While it would be a good idea to have a federal budget, stopgap measures have provided some satisfaction to conservatives who believe government has been doing too much at too high a cost.
But there are some obvious problems that grow worse.
Congress formerly backed the president on foreign policy, because Americans believed we must present a single, unified position to the world. Now, Republicans seek to dictate policy the minute a crisis emerges, and they second-guess each move by Obama on a daily basis.
No sooner did ISIS rebels challenge the Iraq government than some GOP leaders were calling for immediate military action. The President was not given even a little room to consider an American response, before it became obvious that anything he proposed would be attacked.
While Obama does not project the kind of strong leadership style many Americans and even people elsewhere would like, he is entitled to a degree of deference he does not get. The combination of his style and instant GOP opposition weakens the U.S. in the world.
Then, there is a policy failure on immigration reform. Members of both parties accept the need to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants now in the country and new arrivals.
But House Republicans block the passage of any reform measures. It’s obvious they believe a new immigration law would help the Democrats in the November elections. So nothing happens.
It is possible the prolonged discussion about allowing the children of illegal immigrants now in the country to become citizens has served to encourage the new and sharply increased influx of Latino children now under way. They have certainly been misled and given false hope.
And agreement on a badly needed comprehensive energy policy, dealing with both fossil fuels and renewable resources, is so remote it is not even discussed any longer.
Whether even more conservative and unyielding forces will gain power in the Republican Party is now an open question. The elections this fall could provide a good indication of the answer.
Meanwhile, some liberals believe Obama can promote their agenda without GOP support. That could turn out to be true only in the short run.
What about people in the middle? The latest national NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll shows 39 percent consider themselves moderate, 36 percent conservative, and 22 percent liberal. The rest don’t know.
The moderates say they want a government producing results based on compromises between the two sides. That can yield more positive action, longer-lasting policies, and the image of a stronger country.
Liberal columnist Paul Krugman, who seems to think a well-deserved Nobel Prize in Economics makes him a sage on everything, writes: “Who cares what the centrists think?” He is satisfied Obama is accomplishing some of his goals now and shrugs off the need for bipartisan policy mainly because he thinks the GOP makes it impossible.
Krugman fails to understand the purpose of a country governed on behalf of its people is action in line with popular sentiment. It is not acceptable to sneer at those who want compromise.
Perhaps, as he believes, the conservatives will insist on their goals, even to the point of undermining government. But the other side adopts the same tactics at its own risk, when it might win elections by pursuing bipartisan policies, however fruitless that effort in the short term.